People used to think that Yoga only meant standing on the head and doing some breathing techniques. But a very important practice is meditation—working directly with the mind. After all, the body is only a concrete expression of the mind. If you change the mind, you change the body. So what is Yoga? It is keeping the mind calm and clean. Sri Patanjali, known as the Father of Yoga, defines Yoga as a mind that is free from any kind of disturbances or waves. It’s really impossible to calm the waves completely, but we can dive under the waves. You don’t have to try to make the waves calm. The Bhagavad Gita says that the mind gets tossed like a boat on the surface of the ocean. It’s very hard to keep it quiet, so leave it there; don’t fight too much. Instead, become an observer, a witness. It is in meditation that you learn to become a witness. Then you can observe your own happiness, unhappiness, frustrations and joy. That way you are putting yourself into a different level. You are not identifying yourself as the mind, but you are detaching yourself from mind and becoming a witness, an observer.

Whenever the sage Ramana Maharshi was asked a question he would reply, “Who is asking that question?” If someone asked, “I’m so unhappy, what am I to do?” he would say, “Oh you are unhappy?” When the person replied, “Yes,” he would again ask, “Who is that? How do you know you are unhappy?” The point is that the person who knows they are unhappy must be a different person from the one who is asking the question. So, you need to find out who it is that is unhappy, who it is who is hungry, who lost something, etc.

This kind of “Who am I?” inquiry is like a direct hit—like a bird shooting itself toward the fruit on the tree. Not everyone can fly directly like a bird. For example, an ant crawls slowly up the trunk to the branch and finally reaches the fruit. It takes longer but it still gets there. That is more like Bhakti Yoga—you go slow and steady to reach the fruit. There are those who are in a hurry to go quickly and directly. But remember, the bird flies fast, takes the fruit and then flies away. You may have seen the big birds sweep down, catch the fish and fly away. In the midst of that fast movement, if they catch it, they also can easily drop it. There is that danger when you go fast. That’s why we have the proverb “Slow and steady wins the race.” It’s the same with Yoga practice: go slow, but steadily, and you will reach the goal.

Observing the mind is also a very beautiful approach for meditation. You immediately get out of all the problems; you detach yourself. If somebody uses a word that angers you and your blood boils, you may be about to do something or say something violent. But if you immediately put yourself in the role of the observer and you ask yourself, Who is getting upset? What did he say and to whom?, then you are no longer angry. The person might have called you stupid. If you just think, Who is stupid? Am I stupid or is my mind stupid, or what? Begin to analyze and your anger will be gone. You may even forget to get angry. When you are called stupid, and if you really get angry, you have accepted that you are stupid! Identify with the witness and that that keeps you away from all problems. And that witness can be trained properly during meditation.

You don’t have to only sit and repeat the mantra during your meditation practice. When thoughts come, take a little time and inquire where they come from, how they came, what to do with them, and so on. Analyze. If you can’t handle that, if the thoughts are distressing, just ignore them and put in new thoughts. This yogic practice is pratipaksha bhavana, which means, to cultivate an opposite, positive thought. I call it a grease job. When you take the car to get cleaned what do the mechanics do? They want to replace the old grease with new grease. They won’t take the engine apart and clean each part. Instead, under pressure, new grease is squeezed in and it pushes out the old grease. That’s what I learned from the mechanic shop. However old and dirty the grease is, don’t worry about it. Just squeeze in the new grease. Inject the new.

If you can’t do this yourself, come and get some help. That’s where keeping good company comes in. Sage Shankaracharya said that if you can keep yourself in good company, then automatically you are not in bad company. This is satsang. Because you are in good company, you are not deluded. And because you are not deluded, your mind is clean; it does not get shaken up. Then there is no attachment and the mind is steady. Once you get that steadiness of the mind, there is liberation or freedom.

Some of us used to think that only when you are dead and gone is there freedom. But even when you are dead and gone, you are still be bound. That is not real liberation. You have to liberate yourself from the constant changing, vibrating, fluctuating, fleeting mind that comes because of our attachments, our likes and dislikes. We are constantly bombarded with these two. Either you like something or dislike something. I like him, I hate him. Constant turbulence in the mind and it’s all because we are looking for happiness from outside. Of course, in the beginning you can depend on good company but, ultimately, you should not even be depending on that. Become totally independent. That’s how you experience your own happiness. It never comes from outside. It is already within you. If you like someone, you may think that person is making you happy, but it is only your own happiness being reflected by the person. Later you may see the other side and you say you dislike the person. Then you think you are losing your happiness because of them. You say, “Oh he or she makes me miserable.” Nothing makes you miserable. Nothing is interested in making you miserable. You make yourself miserable.

The Bhagavad Gita says that one should lift oneself up. Friend and foe are not from the outside. You create your own friend and foe. The South Indian saint Avvaiyar said “The good and bad and the likes and dislikes that you encounter are not given to you by somebody else.” You created it because you depended on something and thought, “Oh, that made me so happy. But anything that comes and makes you happy, cannot be with you always. When there is a coming there is a going.

Even in architecture, when there is an entry door, there must be an exit door. You cannot build a hall with only one door. Anything that comes in will be looking for a way to go out. Happiness is also like that. Pleasure and pain are inseparable. They are like the two different sides of the same coin. When you get some pleasure, you forget to see the pain on the other side. Everything has its opposite, so it’s not advisable to depend on anything for our happiness. Even if you want to be unhappy don’t depend on anything to be unhappy. You can make yourself unhappy. That is completely in your hands and that is understood very well only when you take time to go within.

Almost all the problems can be solved if someone is regular in meditation. But even then, ultimately, don’t depend on meditation for a half-hour or so in the morning, noon, and evening. That’s not meditation. That’s where you learn to meditate. You only learn to meditate when you sit on the meditation cushion. Then, having learned to meditate there, you begin to meditate everywhere, in the very process of your day-to-day life. Once you learn to meditate well, you can meditate on your eating, digesting, sleeping, walking, talking, and so on. This is called “all time worship,” or sahaja samadhi, in Sanskrit. Our whole life should be a meditation; not that we only meditate at certain intervals. A few times a day is how we begin, and it certainly helps a lot.

Meditation is the most important practice. However busy you are, you can always find some time for meditation. You find time to make money, find time to spend money, and find time to sit and gossip, right? So, find time to meditate also.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda